Category Archives: Raised beds

Progress in the garden

This is our fruit and veg  garden on 16 May 2020. We started work on the plot just over a year ago. There was a lot to do and it’s been hard work but worth it. We are looking forward to harvesting some tasty, pesticide free veg soon.

The weather made it a difficult year but gardeners always say that! The first few months were cold and wet and the top part of the garden was flooded a few of times due to poor drainage. That should now be fixed.

Spring has been cool and mostly dry here and again we are verging on a drought. There were frosts up until last week. That has caused some damage especially to the fruit bushes in the new bed to the left of the path, the top corner is just visible in front of the chairs.

We have done a lot recently thanks to lock down but there is still more to do to achieve our aim of an sustainable, zero waste fruit and veg garden.

New projects
We are lucky to have a corner of a large garden to grow food. Many people have only have a small gardens or just a balcony so we want to share some ideas. First will be an update to the lettuce table  made about 20 years ago. The plan is to make one using as much reclaimed timber as possible and use reclaimed butyl rubber pond liner for the waterproofing.

Next is the use of self-watering containers. We have used them before with good results. We will have peas, beetroot, tomatoes, courgettes and strawberries in various sizes of container. More to come on this soon.

We are also about to start making comfrey liquid fertilizer from the plants started in 2019. This is part of the closed loop, self-contained. zero waste garden we are working towards. It will not be on the same scale as our previous project.

We desperately need an extension to the compost bins as we are already getting short of space. So far we have a cubic metre of compost maturing in one of the bins. The second bin has active compost in it which leaves just one free for the next batch. The plan is to try a very simple way of locking boards together to build metre square bins that can be used when required and then broken down over winter.

As winter approaches we want to try some new ways of extending the season with the aim of having keeping some crops going through winter. That will mean some new cloches and cold frames to go with the solar pods stacked against the wall on the top right of the photo above.

That should be enough to keep us busy for a few weeks, we will post news with videos of progress here.

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Drainage and digging

We have been making a new raised bed on the lawn for soft fruit bushes. The lawn been there for many decades so is very compacted. During the heavy rain earlier the year the area flooded and we did not want fruit bushes sitting in water.

The first stage was to remove the turf followed by a gentle forking over of the soil. I know we are no-dig gardeners but looking at the soil under the grass convinced us it needed loosening.

The videos below show a simple drainage test. The first is on the compacted soil just after the turf was removed. The water puddles and takes a few seconds to drain away. The second video shows the improved drainage after forking, the water disappears almost immediately the flow is stopped.

 

Potato planting

Easter is the traditional time to plant potatoes, but it is better to choose your own time when the weather and soil conditions are right. We planted ours yesterday after making a deep raised bed and filling it with a mixture of soil and compost.

The bed filled with soil and compost

The soil used in the bed came from a turf stack from part of the lawn we removed last year. The turf was stacked grass side down against a wall. There was a good amount of fine topsoil which was mixed with compost from and an old bin we inherited. It took around 12 wheelbarrow loads to fill the bed.

Digging the holes for the seed potatoes

Chitted tubers ready to plant

Ready to plant in the hole

Ready to be filled in

The potato tubers were planted in holes about 200mm deep (8 inches) with the chits pointing up. The chits will grow and form the leaves and stems, so it is important to handle the tubers carefully.

We never use the trench method of planting, i.e. digging out a trench then placing the potatoes in the bottom and then filling in the trench. That is too much soil disturbance and too much work if you have a big bed.

As the first shoots appear cover them with soil to protect against frosts as the new growth is very tender. This is known as ‘earthing up’ and it also helps to increase the yield. The other thing to remember is that potatoes need lots of water so keep them moist all through the growing season.

The general gardening and allotment wisdom is that harvest time comes soon after flowering when the top growth have died off.  We grow a variety called Sarpo Mira which behaves differently to ‘normal’ spuds. The tops do not die off and keep growing right through the autumn if you let them.

Sarpo Mira will continue to increase in size until they are huge and become hollow if you are not careful. The best way to tell when to harvest is to look at the size of the spuds in the ground. Carefully dig some up and see if they are the size you want and if so, harvest the rest. When we have grown this variety before we have harvested about 16 weeks after planting.

Some notes about growing  Sarpo

  1. If you get brown spots on the leaves do not automatically assume that it is blight! See my blog post of 19 July 2009. It is more likely to be a nutrient deficiency.
  2. If they do get blight do NOT cut off the tops .At a trial in Wales this year where Sarpo were the only variety left standing when everything else had been wiped out by blight. They had some patches of blight on the leaves but the researchers say that the plants can continue growing for ~3 months after infection. The blight does not seem to go down into the tubers so the harvest is not affected.
  3. ‘Mira’ is a very heavy cropper so needs feeding throughout the growing season.
  4. The tops do not die off after flowing like other varieties so do not wait for that to happen before lifting. (They can continue flowering for weeks!) Check regularly and harvest when the tubers are the size you want. I would advise against leaving them into the ground until autumn as the tubers can become massive and hollow.

Got to this web page for a list of stockists

Read more about the Sarpo story here.

End of year report

It has not been the easiest of seasons with lots of cool, dark and wet weather especially since September. We have enjoyed harvesting a few test crops and are looking forward to planning for the 2020 season.

One success has been the compost and we have ended the year with around a cubic metre of good compost ready to cover the beds over winter. That was from five batches made up to October. The last batch failed as it had too much woody stuff (carbon) and not enough green material (nitrogen.)  It will now sit there until next year when it will be mixed with the inevitable mountain of grass cuttings.

Click an image to enlarge

There is still a lot to do but at least we know that the beds are working especially the solar pods, which were completed in early October. Details can be found here: “Solar Gardening: Growing Vegetables Year-round the American Intensive Way” (1994.) It is available here at Google Books.

It is real treat to have home grown lettuce at this time of year! The pods will be used to get an early start in February/March next year. The bed behind the first pod has been covered with a wheelbarrow full of compost to protect the soil from compaction by heavy rain.

The three 1M square solar pods

Inside pod 1, some left over lettuce plants and springs greens

Under our feet

What if an easy way to reduce atmospheric carbon dioxide were right under our feet? It would not require years of research, huge investments in unproven technology and is available now. Today!

Impossible? NO! We can start now. All we have to do is change the way we manage the soil that grows our food.

I have used no-dig raised beds to grow food for nearly 30 years. In 2009  four small beds were made without digging heavily compacted soil that had not been cultivated for 30 years. The soil was gently loosened, covered with compost and seeds/plants sown. It worked! See this page

Now there is research about the beneficial effects of not cultivating the biggest of which is creating a carbon sink that reduces the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere.

Why are we not doing this on a large scale? Why the reluctance to act? We could all start to make a real difference today!

Food as medicine

As it should be at every hospital!

“You become diabetic because when you don’t have good food to eat, you eat whatever you can to survive,” Golden says. “Because of the healthy food I get from the pantry… I’ve learned how to eat.”

That is why growing food is the best single thing that you can do to improve health. Not only does it provide cheaper really fresh food, it educates and informs and changes lives.

I just do not understand why more of this kind of initiative is not happening in the UK. It is sad to think that people are being deprived of the experience of growing and eating their food.

You don’t need a lot of space, do it square metre beds!

 

Biochar

I found this book in last week in Oxford last week, Blackwells Broad Street branch.  it just jumped off the shelf. I have known about biochar for some years but not used it in the garden. With the new plot and talk about sequestering CO2 and making better use of nutrients it could not have come at a better time.

What I like about the book is that there is some history, the use of biochar goes back to 450 BCE – 950 BCE. The soils from that era are still black, it lasts locking up atmospheric CO2 for centuries. There is a section about how it works and very useful practical information about making biochar in either in a burn pit or a TLUD: top lit up-draft gasifier.

Making a TLUD from a couple of steel barrels look relatively straight forward so that is what I will do.

It fits in nicely with the yearly timetable as I am just about to start preparing the soil for the winter. I will post some pics of the TLUD build progress soon.

Grow food in your garden – fight climate change

There is nothing like sitting down to a meal with veg that you have grown. It might be only one or two items but it tastes better and feels good when you know it is from your garden.

Now is a good time to start thinking about growing food next season. You don’t need an allotment or a large garden, start small and see how it goes. See this page

We need more allotments – now!

Here is a bit of very radical action, well not that radical; the government must make more land available for the  “90,000 people on waiting lists to get their own patch of land to grow vegetables.” In short more allotments! Not that difficult, would not cost billions and would help in all sorts of ways. See this link for more information